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Foreseeing the future of the web

Johannesburg, 05 Jul 2022

Taking place every year in Amsterdam is The Next Web Conference, which gathers some of the world’s sharpest tech minds for an intense two days in June. Tim Berners-Lee, Natasha Chamuleau, Brian Solis, Edward Snowden, Meik Wiking and Mo Gawdat were among the over 200 speakers at the 2022 event. Mélody Deunier-Lisene from Voys South Africa went along to take a dizzying dive into the future of digital technology.

The Next Web Conference 2022 in full swing.
The Next Web Conference 2022 in full swing.

To boldly go

In a realm where the phrase ‘the next big thing’ has more miles on it than a photon from the Big Bang, ‘The Next Web’ is a particularly apt moniker for a conference devoted to examining the outermost frontiers of the web. What are they, what do they reveal, are we going to go there, when and how?

Attempts to answer these questions form some of the most exhilarating investigations, innovations and inventions currently emerging from many of the keenest minds of this or any age. We are currently experiencing a technological hyper-renaissance where so much is changing so quickly that it can be both liberating and terrifying.

Blurred lines

The interface between the human and the technological is an area that fascinates Mo Gawdat. Given the increasing overlap between the two, the Egyptian entrepreneur, writer and former chief business officer for Google X searches for a different kind of singularity in his acclaimed book Solve for Happy. Applying the hard skills of logic and problem solving to the nebulous notion of happiness, Gawdat proposes an algorithm based on an understanding of how the brain takes in and processes joy and sadness, which allows us to quite literally ‘solve for happy’.

Freedom of the Press Foundation President Edward Snowden delivers his address via video link.
Freedom of the Press Foundation President Edward Snowden delivers his address via video link.

Deunier-Lisene also caught the gripping presentation by John LePore, another leading thinker working on the boundary where science fiction meets science fact. The chief creative at New York’s Perception, LePore is a legendary designer and innovator who divides his time between contributing ingenious concepts to blockbuster films (Avengers: Infinity War; Avengers: Endgame; Black Panther; Thor: Ragnarok) and providing exciting tech solutions for companies such as SpaceX, Audi, Ford and Microsoft.

Up, up and away

Another standout speaker at The Next Web was Brian Solis. The ‘digital anthropologist’ and celebrated author spoke powerfully about his new book Lifescale:​​ How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life in a manner both simple and true, which had the audience questioning their own impediments to happiness and productivity. Solis’ work is credited with strongly influencing the early digital and social marketing landscape.

Speaking of influential, Alisa Cohn is among the pre-eminent global authorities on the subject of entrepreneurship. Her award-winning book, From Start-Up to Grown-Up, provides aspiring entrepreneurs with an indispensable toolkit to transform fledgling companies into success stories. In her address at The Next Web, the internationally renowned executive coach touched on invaluable learnings gained from building iconic brands such as Etsy, Venmo, Foursquare and The Wirecutter.

Final frontiers

Conferences intensively focused on a single industry – or group of industries – often acquire a reputation for being a maelstrom of increasingly meaningless buzzwords. So an informal measure of a conference’s distinctiveness is its ability to itself be innovative in terms of the language it uses. The Next Web did not disappoint in this regard.

Brian Solis: The celebrated author discusses his new book Lifescale.
Brian Solis: The celebrated author discusses his new book Lifescale.

We’ve already had ‘digital anthropologist’ Brian Solis and, last but not least on Deunier-Lisene’s list of top speakers of the event was ‘wonder junkie’ and ‘performance philosopher’ Jason Luis Silva. The charismatic Venezuelan-American television personality, filmmaker, futurist and public speaker is possibly most well-known for hosting Brain Games, the National Geographic Channel show that messes with your mind and reveals the inner workings of your brain. Described as "a Timothy Leary of the viral video age", Silva lectures internationally on topics such as creativity, spirituality, technology and humanity.

Silva’s self-declared goal is "to use technology to excite people about philosophy and science". This could quite easily describe the purpose of The Next Web Conference as a whole. For anyone who fears the future or is troubled by technology, this conference is the perfect antidote: rarely have so many people been so excited about technology’s inherent potential to make the future a fun, free and fascinating place to be.